[Note: I’m writing a series about consent issues in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I will post a new entry in this series every other Tuesday – or perhaps on a weekly basis, if I have the time. In this series, I will look at an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that deals with rape, sexual assault, or consent issues as a main plot point or as a featured event of the episode. I will examine these episodes in chronological order. If, in my writing of this series, you feel that I have skipped an episode that should be a part of this series, feel free to submit a guest post, and I will consider publishing it.]
EPISODE: “I Was Made to Love You,” “Intervention”
INCIDENT: Uh…robot sex?
PERPETRATOR: Warren Mears, Spike
VICTIM: April, Buffybot
The specifics: In these two episodes, two different male characters create walking, talking robots to be their walking sex toys. Warren creates a robot named April to be his girlfriend, but then abandons her when he falls in love with a real-life woman named Katrina. Spike has Warren create a sexbot that looks and sounds exactly like Buffy. Both robots are programmed to be hopelessly devoted to the men who created them (or in Spike’s case, the man who commissioned the robot to be built).
The mind of the perpetrators: Warren is a lonely person who created a robot girlfriend when no real-life women wanted him. He explains to Buffy that he wanted more than sex – he wanted a girlfriend, and programmed April to be in love with him. Unfortunately, he found that he could not love April because she was too perfect:
“You know, she got boring. She was exactly what I wanted, and I didn’t want her.”
After he falls in love with Katrina and begins dating her, he abandons April in his dorm room, hoping that her batteries will run out before she can come after him, showing that he doesn’t think of her as a person (which, granted, she isn’t).
Spike, meanwhile, is in love with Buffy and knows he can never have the real Buffy, so he makes Warren build him the Buffybot. She looks exactly like Buffy and sounds exactly like Buffy, but is chirpy and ditzy in the way that the real-life Buffy isn’t. The Buffybot is also slavishly devoted to Spike.
The victims’ perspective: They’re programmed to love Warren and Spike, respectively, and they do. There’s not much else to say.
What does this episode say about misogyny and rape culture?
First of all, I’d like to say that I don’t consider the robot sex a violation of consent in of itself. Building a robot girlfriend is creepy, without question, but at the same time…they’re robots. Programming a robot’s mind isn’t the same as trying to control a human being’s mind.
At the same time, though, I think that the personality traits of the robots reveal a lot about the men who built them.
Warren programs April to be voice-activated. She has to respond when he calls her or else a buzzing feedback will ring in her ears. (Buffy calls him a “creepy little dweeb” when she hears this, and I think she was being kind.) He also programs her to never cry if she’s upset:
“APRIL: Crying is blackmail. Good girlfriends don’t cry.”
It’s nice that he manages to make a genuine human connection with Katrina, and likes her for her personality (he tells Buffy that she was really funny and smart). But his treatment of April – abandoning her in his dorm room and hoping for her batteries to run out – shows that he only cares about people/women as long as they serve the needs he wants at the time. April was useful to him when he wanted a girlfriend to worship him, and Katrina was useful to him when he wanted someone more challenging, but he abandoned April in a dorm room, and as for Katrina…well, we’ll see what he does to her when we get to season six.
Spike’s case is a little different. Unlike Warren, he doesn’t program the Buffybot to experience physical pain if she doesn’t answer Spike’s calls, and he doesn’t emotionally manipulate her by making her believe that “crying is blackmail.” However, his robot is built to look and sound like a real person, the woman Spike can’t have. His robot is still gross, just for a different reason than Warren’s is gross.
There’s still creepy programming involved in Spike’s robot, anyway. He programs the Buffybot to know exactly three facts about each one of Buffy’s close friends, to not correctly pronounce Giles’s name, to not ask about Dawn or care much about her. He also programs the Buffybot to become turned on after fighting and to feel sexually unsatisfied if she doesn’t stake enough vampires during a night’s patrol. (This turns out to be somewhat true for Buffy herself, as she is attracted to the mix of sex and violence, but not to the porn-movie extent that the Buffybot is.) Later in season six, he’ll tell the real Buffy that she doesn’t belong with her friends and belongs “in the dark,” with him.
By the end of “Intervention,” the Buffybot is out of commission, and Spike has been nearly beaten to death by Glory because he refused to give information about Dawn. He’ll give his own life if it means saving Buffy’s or Dawn’s, and that’s why Buffy forgives him for his gross escapade.
Both Warren and Spike did something terribly creepy with their sexbots, but the way they handle the aftermath speaks volumes about their characters. When Warren realizes that he has to dump April, he tells the robot that he’s fallen in love with Buffy, thereby directing April’s wrath away from himself and Katrina to a third party. It doesn’t matter to him either way if an innocent bystander lives or dies. Spike, on the other hand, will undergo torture and possible death if he can save Buffy or someone important to her. This doesn’t absolve him of his actions, though – it merely shows that he has more potential to be a better person than Warren does.